We sailed on the Golden Princess for the Inner Passage cruise on June 21-28 with a group of seven.
EMBARKING: We arrived at the Seattle port at about 11 am and it was quite crowded already. When the line starts to move, they take the seated passengers first, then those who are lined up in the ropes. For putting 2,800 passengers on a ship, we thought the process was seamless. Boarding started at noon. We were in the rope area and we were still in our cabin by 12:30. We went to the Horizon buffet versus the dining room just to have a quick lunch. One frustration was in having our bags delivered to the cabin. They did not arrive until after the drill, hence we had an hour of "down" time that I could have spend unpacking before sail away. I read in other reviews that the ship was late in departing, but we departed a few minutes before the scheduled 4 PM departure time.
THE SHIP: We were in cabin Carbe 531, midship, level 10, balcony. We were originally booked in an interior room, but a week before the cruise, Vacations To Go called asking if we wanted to upgrade to a balcony for $199 each. There were three of us in the cabin. The room arrangement was 2 twins with the bunk over the twin bed against the wall. When it was down, it did not get in the way of anything, and there was ample room to sit on both beds without hitting your head. If there was 4 of us, having the second bunk down may have made the room challenging to get around. We had a very large balcony, about 9 by 9, or 81 sq. feet. In our opinion, this should be the last season for the Golden to sail without being refurbished. While the carpeting is in good condition, the chair, curtains, and linens need to be replaced. There was a slight locker room smell around the closet area. We were surprised that there was not a top sheet, just a duvet topping. While the ship is very clean, the public areas are also showing their wear. It's been 13 years, time for a remodel. We also had a problem with our toilet...it stopped flushing on the second day of the cruise, and our shower overflowed and needed repair. Speaking of the shower, we brought 4 large binder clips to put on the bottom and had no problem with the dreaded shower curtain sticking to us. We also bought in Seattle 40 cheap plastic hangers to hang all our clothes. (About 20 are provided by Princess). There was ample hanging space for the 3 of us to hang everything and use the shelves and drawers for smaller items. There is shampoo, shower gel and lotion in the bathrooms.
SERVICE: For the most part, very good. We had the 7:45 seating in the Canaletto dining room with Roel as our waiter. The first night, service was slow, but the other nights were better. When we told Roel that we needed to leave for an activity, he rushed us out. We opted for the anytime dining, dining room on 2 nights when we arrived back to the ship later or had an activity we want to do, and service there was very good also. We would meet for drinks before dinner in the Wheelhouse Bar, and Wolfman (his nickname) actually remembered our names every night we were there. Our cabin steward, Ariel, did his job, nothing over that. The cruise directors were energetic and friendly. While I would rate our service as very good, we did not like how the employees were always selling something. We were approached about 10 times the first day by 10 different people if we wanted to purchase a beverage or coffee card.
ACTIVITIES: The seven of us participated in most trivia, bingo and game shows. BTW...bingo is getting very expensive. We attended the first lecture by our naturalist, Michael, but he was a little too egotistical for us to attend any of his other lectures. The park ranger who boarded our ship in Glacier Bay was a little boring. We went to one show, British Invasion, and it was 40 minutes of hokey fun. There were rarely people in the nightclub. The casino was busy, but we never had a problem getting a blackjack table. There were 70 children on our ship, but never saw most of them. The age group of the cruise was from about 50-75 for the most part.
FOOD: I read so many complaints on the food that we were not expecting much. We were surprised how good the food was, and don't think all the complaining was valid. This is our 5th cruise (3rd on Princess) and while not as good as the food on Celebrity, this was our favorite Princess food experience. On deck, the pizza and burgers were very good. We only did the buffet for breakfast when we were rushed to get off the ship. The dining room for breakfast is better, but this meal is their weak link. Desserts were very good. We thought the drinks were reasonably priced, and they were generous.
JUNEAU: We opted to walk down the pier (the pier walk was longer than I read) and saw the tour booths at the end of the pier. We stopped at the first one and purchased a tour ($30 each...highly negotiable so bargain) of the city and trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. The tour was booked via M & M tours and Arnie was our tour guide/driver. We started with a tour of the city...the state capital, governor's mansion, public buildings, etc. We then drove over the bridge to Douglas Island and stopped at an area looking back at Juneau and the cruise ships. Off to Mendenhall with Arnie giving us tidbits on Juneau with a good wit. On arriving at the visitors' center, we were told that we had one hour at the glacier. We decided to walk the trail to the Nugget Falls, and it was spectacular. It's about a mile walk, and having only an hour, we had to hightail it. If you can make the 2 mile walk, it's worth it to see the glacier close up and the falls. Looking back, I would have preferred not to go to Douglas Island and used the time instead at the visitor's center to view their movie on glaciers. On our return, we had a Alaskan beer and appetizers at the Red Dog Saloon...touristy, but then again the whole town is geared to tourist. Two members of our group loved the Fish and Chips here. My potato skins were just frozen pieces with salsa.
SKAGWAY: We booked via Princess the round trip on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. "Wow" does not describe the trip. We took the 12:30 train and happy we did as we heard from the tour guide that the morning train had fog. This is a must excursion. A tip...While the trip leaves at 12:30, the line (at the end of the concrete pier, well marked) forms about 11:45. You want to make sure that you sit on the left hand side of the train. You will have the view on the way up when you travel slower and the narration if fresh. You switch sides on top of the summit, however the ride down is almost anti-climatic. The narrator is not as wordy and the train goes faster down the hill. Choose a middle train car as the fumes are bad from the engine. The history about the construction is amazing. Skagway is not much of a town...in fact, it's government funded as a park that looks like an old town, Disney style. We stopped to talk to a ranger in the national park building, and he was very informative on the gold rush. Town is a block long...don't waste your money on a town excursion.
GLACIER BAY: Another wow day. We arrived in the bay about 8 am and a park ranger boarded the boat via pilot boat. It was very cold and drizzling. The highlight is the Margerie Glacier. You will spend about an hour here. When you arrive at this glacier, it is on the left side of the boat. You will stop for some time, then ever so slowly, the boat will turn in front of the glacier. We saw limited calfing of the glacier. We then looked at the John Hopkins glacier from 5 miles away. This appeared as the most spectacular glacier, but we did not get close to this growing glacier. Next is the Lamplugh Glacier, which is a disappointment after seeing the first 2 glaciers. We attended the park ranger lecture in the Princess Theater, but her monotonic voice put us to sleep. We left the area about 3 PM.
KETCHIKAN: We booked via Princess the Adventure Kart experience. The bus ride to the experience was about 20 minutes away, and our bus driver provided many facts about Ketchikan. We lucked out...it was a beautiful day, which is a rarity in Ketchikan. There were 18 of us on this outing. We did not need rain gear...thank goodness. If the rain gear smelled as bad as the helmet we had to wear, I don't know if I could do it. We were given instructions about the kart operation and a safety warning. An employee leads the way, and there is also and employee in the back. The ride was bouncy, bumpy, and dusty on this rainless day. Bring a bandana or mask...or else you want to purchase one as it is very dusty. We made a stop on the way up the hill to see the view of the bay and also at a waterfall. The stops were way too long, including a granola bar...we wanted to be on the road. The employee gave us some interesting facts of the area, only to be interrupted by the employee who drove in the rear. This was a pricey excursion. I'm glad I did it as I will never have the opportunity to do something like this again, but it was not worth the money. We did not have a chance to walk around this picturesque town as we had to hurry back to the boat. This town is very pretty...looks like a typical fishing town that you would envision in Alaska. It is also very nice when the boat leaves Ketchikan.
VICTORIA: We walked the Inner Harbor to town...longer than you would think. About 45 minutes of a good clip, past many hotels and timeshares. This town is quaint, and the Parliament building is beautiful. We walked down to the Blue bridge on our unofficial pub walk. We had a Canadian beer at The Local...their liquor license only allowed one beer unless your purchased food. We took a car back to the ship as it started to rain. Passports are not needed to leave the ship. Tip: Eat in the Anytime Dining room that opens at 5 PM. We had plenty of time for a nice dinner on the ship before we arrived in Victoria at 7 PM.
DISEMBARKING: We made our own travel plans to fly home on a late flight, therefore we wanted the latest time to disembark as possible. Our time was 9:40 and everything went smoothly. Taxi's were plentiful, but a Toyota Prisus will not accommodate three adults with three large bags. We had to wait for a larger taxi.
SUMMARY: A great cruise!! Alaska exceeded our expectations...but I think once is enough. Princess did a great job...just don't let the ships get run down.